Lewis Baird, Contributing Critic - United Kingdom
Green Day’s hit musical, “American Idiot”, is hitting the road for its tenth anniversary UK Tour. It has been up and down the country many times before, and this time it’s a celebratory lap for fans of the musical to relive the rock. This week the musical is visiting Scotland’s largest and grandest theatre, the Edinburgh Playhouse, so I attended the press evening to see if this show still is entertaining the masses.
The story follows three young, American men and how they react to the shocking aftermath of 9/11. The musical covers the struggle of drug addictions, relationships and purpose within life. It does all this to the glorious soundtrack of some Green Day iconic hits.
Tom Milner transforms into the gritty and broken lead character, Johnny. Tom supplies Johnny with vocal and physical characterization familiar to Green Day’s leading man, Billie Joe Armstrong. He truly owns the acting, and keeps the audience engaged and intrigued, especially within a specific scene where drug use is a main theme. He also transforms so drastically, it really does make the character’s journey more shocking to the audience; the portrayal Tom supplies really is a highlight of this production. Tom’s singing really compliments the characterization and adds even more depth. The only flaw within some of this character’s moments, was that not all the comedy moments landed for this character, so there should be more exploration within that side to the piece. But overall, this is an unbelievably strong performance.
Luke Friend supplies a good concept for a more threatening and angrier version of the character, St Jimmy. There are moments where this characterization definitely shines through, however, due to poor diction with dialogue and lyrics, you really struggle to understand the character. There is good physicality and imagery present, which the audience can see. And vocally, he is in key, and voice sounds lovely, it’s just that due to his type of singing voice, he needs to articulate clearer for the audience to be able to understand the lyrics through the loud playing of the band. Also, it’s clear there are issues with the intentions that Luke gives the character for certain sections of the performance, and this could be to do with direction or perhaps a choice from the actor, but there is something which makes this abstract character, even more disconnected from the audience.
Joshua Dowen captures the audience with his devastating portrayal as Tunny, there is true emotion in his performance, where just through his powerful rendition of Green Day’s lyrics, he is able to show the devastation he has been embroiled in. His performance, really does justice to the character of Tunny, and gives it more depth than to previous productions. Samuel Pope as Will, gives us a character who clearly realizes how important life is when it’s too late. Samuel gives us great vocals and pretty good portrayal of Will. In my opinion, there could have been more characterization from Samuel, there seemed to be minimum reaction to major points in this character’s journey, which made them a little bit anti-climactic, and rather two dimensional.
Sam Lavery as Whatshername, supplies fantastic vocals and a woman who is stuck behind love, or doing the right thing. Sam’s vocals in terms of singing are definitely one of the most powerful within this production. She wows the audience and packs a punch in some of the notes she can reach, leaving the audience in awe. This was a superb performance.
In terms of ensemble, this group work fantastically well to help emerge the audience into the rock experience that is “American Idiot”. Vocally and physically they display a stunning standard of performance. The ensemble for this touring production is, Siobhan O’Driscoll, Raquel Jones, Glenn Adamson, Alexandria Robinson, Christian Tyler-Wood, Daniel Law, Jennifer Caldwell, Joshua Dowen, Laura Marie Benson, Rory MacGuire, Ross William Wild and Shekinah McFarlane. Oh, wait! And a video appearance from the fantastic Lucas Rush.
Racky Plews directs and choreographs this production of “American Idiot”, visually this production is stunning, the rustic suburban design by Sara Perks is highly complimented by the energy lifting and breathtaking lighting design by Tim Deiling, plus with the ensemble of actors on stage it looks terrific, especially some of the movement segments. And you feel that each song gives the show a different element, or visually a different image. However, even though visually it is stunning, you really do think at points if Plews has questioned whether some of the rather outlandish actions, such as rubbing/licking nipples, throwing crisps, actors continuously flipping off one another, and the tame idea of having an actor on stage, five minutes before the performance begins, really do fit in with what is going on within these scenes? It just seems that the characters are being outlandish for no purpose, there is no prompt for them to get their top off, there is no prompt to throw crisps, but they do it anyway. As someone who is currently studying direction, moments like these seem like they are there as a stylization point with no substance, which doesn’t add to the piece and rather at points takes away from something which had the choice to aptly compliment the piece, but unfortunately, we’re left with rather shallow, disconnected actions. Apart from that issue, I feel that Racky’s vision for the production is something which translates well for audiences within the UK, and the stylization which does have meaning with depth, really does pay off, and the audience love it.
In terms of story by Billie Joe Armstong and Michael Mayer, it is rather abstract, at points any non-theatre goer could be quite lost, but for those of us who understand theatre conventions, plus the symbolization that Racky Plews places for the audience, it is very much understandable. And obviously, the music by Green Day and lyrics by Billie Joe Armstong are f**king amazing, I’m sure that’s the best way to describe Green day.
Overall, this musical is something which anyone looking for a rock-opera can lap up. There are definite issues with some of the cast’s character choices and there are some questionable creative decisions mixed in there as well. But, all in all, “American Idiot” is a great rock musical, with nostalgic music, which fits into a strong story, with an equally strong cast, so you are guaranteed a good night out at the theatre.
Click on the link below for information on the show and dates: